Removing Tree Pitch

By , October 25, 2013

Working in the woodpile and forest, pitch can be a real problem. Around our homestead, spruce and hemlock sap can make our hands sticky, gum up work gloves, and stain clothing. On warmer days it even drips from the canopy above into our hair.

Removing pitch has become a frequent activity for us. We’re reluctant connoisseurs of pitch removing methods.

The best agent to remove pitch has, for years, been oil of some kind. Butter has its devotees; mayonnaise is a popular solution. A dollop of either will remove pitch from skin fairly easily. The problem comes when the pitch to be removed sticks to clothing. These remedies may remove most or all of the pitch, but they’ll leave a greasy stain on clothes that may even be worse than the pitch itself.

We’ve discovered something much better than oils for removing pitch: hand sanitizer.

Just about any brand hand sanitizer will remove pitch and other stickum (such as stick-on labels) quickly and easily. In some, but not all cases (depending on the type of fabric) it may eliminate it altogether, as it will if used on skin. Because the substance is alcohol based, once the pitch is gone, the spot dries quickly.

That, however, is the one danger to using hand sanitizer this way. There are reports that the fast evaporating alcohol can be highly flammable. I’ve never cared to test the truth of the reports of people being badly burned because of hand sanitizer, which may eventually prove to be urban legends, but I would advise against allowing your cleaned item too near a heat source or open flame until it’s thoroughly dry. We avoid feeding the wood stove or working over the propane stove immediately after using hand sanitizer for this reason.

We keep hand sanitizer ready on our “homestead” for a variety of purposes. We have pump bottles on hand in the outhouse, by the front door, even at the kitchen sink. This comes in very handy when we get pitch on ourselves.

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